'This seems endless.' Fires force evacuation of 12,000 in 3 French Riviera towns 

Wildfires blazing across the south of France have forced the emergency evacuation of thousands of residents and tourists.

The French authorities said they had moved to safety around 12,000 people — most of whom are vacationing on its Mediterranean coast in camping sites and holiday homes — as flames swept through forests and firefighters struggled to stop them from spreading.

On Wednesday, French officials said that more than 4,000 firefighters were mobilized to tackle the fires as they raged around the Côte d'Azur at the height of the tourist season.

Fires broke out along the popular seaside area on Monday, forcing a few scattered evacuations and causing a scare on the edges of the celebrated seaside resort of Saint Tropez. The latest and most serious conflagration started around the hillside town of Bormes-les-Mimosas on Tuesday and quickly spread across swathes of pine forest, aided by strong winds and dry ground conditions caused by an ongoing heatwave.

On Wednesday four tracker planes and several water-dumping aircraft were dispatched to the region as billowing black smoke filled the sky. By evening, the situation was still not under control.

Tourists and local residents used Twitter to share photos and videos from the region.

Emmanuelle Kremer of Bormes-les-Mimosas posted: “Fire still going on since midnight...this seems endless.”

Colonel Eric Martin of the local Var region firefighting unit told French television nearly 600 staff were trying to stop the blaze spreading. It has already destroyed more than 3,500 acres of forest in the region.

The evacuated were given temporary shelter in local town halls, gymnasiums and schools. Some tourists slept on sandy beaches.

The airport at Toulon, on the coast, was briefly closed Wednesday but has reopened.

France's Mediterranean coastline is vulnerable to seasonal wildfires because of its inland forest fringe that becomes a tinderbox in the dry summers.

Local newspaper, the Var Martin, said several firefighters and police had been injured, but no residents or holidaymakers have been hurt.

Devastating summer fires also broke out on the island of Corsica, where nearly 5,000 acres of forest to the north of the holiday isle were consumed, and in Portugal and Albania. In Italy, fires have raged for several weeks.

Willsher is a special correspondent.

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UPDATES:

11:35 a.m.: This article was updated with staff reporting and the latest figures on acreage burned and firefighters deployed.

This article was originally published at 6:25 a.m.

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